Monday, February 6, 2012

We've Moved! New blog address!

We've moved!!!!!

Please visit my new blog,

My new blog has an expanded theme...instead of just tasty and healthy restaurants and activities in LA, we will be covering EVERYTHING health related! Basic nutrition, digestive health, low back pain, videos showing stretches for wrist pain (from typing too much), and everything in between. I will also post recipes, and continue to suggest awesome places to go in Southern California. Please check us out!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Meal Planning for healthy backpacking

Although there are many aspects of a thu-hike that would be considered "difficult," (planning for unpredicable weather, stream crossings, bringing enough TP, etc), for me the most stressful planning was food preparation. What if I run out of food? How do I know how hungry I'll be? How do I find a quick-cooking gluten free breakfast? What if I become vitamin C deficient from lack of fresh vegetables?!?! Ahhhh!!!
My stress might have been lessened by a good JMT-food planning guide, but I couldn't seem to find one that really spelled it out. So, I decided to write my own, so maybe your food-planning stress can be reduced. And, of course, there is special attention paid to those hikers with diety-restriction (gluten and dairy allergies, vegetarian and vegan, etc.)

First things first-Calories!!!!
A simple but effective way to plan your daily meals is by caloric consumption. You will be burning up to 6,000 calories a day, so plan for more calories than you would usually consume. (Don't know your normal calorie comsumption? Spend a few days keeping a food journal, and add it up! There's some online programs that will average calories for certain dishes.)
Plan for about 2,500 calories of food a day. If that isn't enough for you, I will list ways to amp up the calories in your meals.
There's a few ways to do it...I would lay out a breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day, and add up the calories. My partner simply added all his food for each supply, and divided it by the number of days. (So for a 7-day food supply, he would add all the calories and divide it by 7 to get the average number per day.) Just make sure you have enough energy to get up those overpasses.

Weight/Dehydrated Food:
People seem divided over pre-made dehydrated food meals. They save a TON on weight, which will make a big difference. They also save on space and planning, since you don't have to bring extra spices and ingredients. They also save fuel, since usually they only require boiled water. (Instead of having to boil or cook for an extended time.) They can save on having to do dishes, since certain ones can be cooked in their package, although that can create more waste. Some are chemical-free, which I can't say for the standard grocery store dried mashed potatoes. Also, you can MAKE YOUR OWN dehydrated food, which is probably the cheapest option. (More info below.)
Cons: These meals can be VERY pricey, some $10-$12 apiece. (Certain brands are cheaper than others, and you can find sales on gear sites.) Also, since they are pricey, you may not be able to taste taste them before you go. If you're picky, that may be hard, since you may get stuck with meals you don't like.

Dehyrated Food Sources:
Outdoor Herbivore: Best for food allergies, vegetarian/vegan diet, organic, etc: This website and its meal options are simply awesome. Everything is certified organic and chemical free, and they pay special attention to dietary needs and nutriets hard to come by on the trail. The meals are also suprisingly calorie packed for veggie food, more so than even the meatier brands. There're many gluten free breakfast options (brown rice farina with dried fruit, chia seed breakfast with dates and coconut.) For the nutrition junky, they don't miss much. Many of their meals have nutrional yeast (B vitamins!) and special spices for imflammation and blood sugar regulation (tumeric and cinnamin.) It has basically the cheapest dehydrated meals, and you can get a double serving size for only $2 more, cutting cost way down. Only flaw...there is a lot of onion and garlic in their dinners, so if you're sensitive be careful.
Mary Janes Farms: This is one of the tastiest organic meals, even the  non-health concious backpackers really loved them. (ahhh, chili-mac...) They have a lot of veggie options, and they are organic and chemical free. Downside? Definitely one of the pricier brands, so watch out for on-line sales.
Pack Lite Foods: Another vegetarian dehydrated food site, with some tasty entries. I didn't get much from them this trip, (I opted for the higher calorie choices from outdoor herbivore), but I will try more next time for variety.
My least suggested? The most popular brand, carried by most outdoor stores, is Mountain House. As a nutrional geek, I coudln't bring my self to buy a single package. Hyrdogenated oils, anyone? Many of the people I met ate them and said they were good, but they're also pricey, and I think they are much better brands to choose from.

Other food sources:
Regular grocery stores carry things like ramen noodles, powdered mashed potatoes, and mac & cheese. These are usually not the most chemical free, but they can be a lot cheaper. (And Whole Foods often has its own version.) Just be careful of cooking time, you don't want to burn up your fuel. (Like regular pasta noodles, that often need to boil for 10 min or more.)
Raw Food snacks: There are some caloricly dense raw foods containing nuts, which can also have some good nutrients (like dried kale, seaweed, raw almonds, coconut butter). These can be pricey, and some aren't worth the weight/price/to calorie ratio. Remember, you have limited space in your bear canister!
Trader Joes: TJ's has some of the best trail mixes! Get a variety, so you don't have to eat the same combo every day. They also have the best prices for dried fruit (sans sulfites) and raw nuts.
Fishing and Gathering: I do not trust my plant-skills to forage for my own food, but many people go this route. Some people also brought tiny fishing poles, and caught some very fresh trout.

Electrolytes and Missed Nutrients:The absence of fresh food can leave a backpacker without some important nutriets. This is not just important for health, but for energy and performance. There is a great article on Outdoor Herbivore that goes into detail of the foods that give specific vitamins, and here are some of the important ones:
Electrolytes: You may have heard a lot of hype about this little guys, but they are actually quite important to keep from muscle cramping and dehydration. The tubes of tablets are more weight/space efficient, (compared to the individual packets), and can be added to your water bottle throughout the day. (The right amount makes you have to pee less and absorb more water, but be careful, too much can have the opposite effect!)
Potassium:  Potassium is an electrolite, but since you'll probably be eating a lot of salt (from dried meals) be sure to keep up the potassium. You're potassium/sodium balance keeps you probably hydrated. Potassium can be found in many dried fruits (like bananas) and potatoes.
Omega 3: Most nuts are really high in Omega 6, so you'll have to purposely add ingredients with Omega 3 to keep yourself healthy. Omega 3 is important for energy and joint health. Include walnuts, avocado, hemp, chia seeds, or flax to certain meals.
Vitamin C: This is present in fruits and veggies, but can be lacking in dried dinners. Either eat a decent amount of dried fruit, or bring some Emergen-C packets with you just in case.
Dehydration: Water may seem like an obvious thing, but most people do not drink enough of it. At dry, high altitudes this can literally be dangerous. Drink continuously, even if you're not thirsty. (You don't need to go crazy, just sip all day.) Make sure the water is clear coming out, dark urine can be an indication of dehydration.

Doing your own dehydrating!
My hiking partner bought a dehydrator, and made his own beef jerky, pineapple, and apple rings. They were some of the tastiest dried fruit I have every had, and he saved a lot of money doing it. You can even dehydrate your own full meals and other things, so the sky's the limit if you feel like going this route. You can try using a regular oven, or there are dehydrators for under $50.

Variety:I thought that I would be so ravenous after burning 3,000 calories that I would eat just about anything. So I packed one kind of trail mix, a couple kinds of dried fruit, and the same few dinners. This was a huge mistake. Hungry or not, you will crave variety and flavor. Pack a different trail mix in each resupply with different ingridients, and a mix of meals. Bring different freeze-dried fruit to add to your oatmeal (bananas, blueberries, strawberries, etc.) Bring a variety of sides to go with dinner. This is especially important if you have altitude sickness, since I had no appitite in the first place. So trying to choke down the same trial mix every day was torture.

Altitude Sickness:
I thought this would be a rare condition, but I suffered from altitude sickness the WHOLE HIKE, and met others who had the same issue. You feel dizzy, nautious, and fuzzy headed. The most dangerous side effect is that you can lose your appetite...which definitely happened to me. I had to force-feed myself every bite, and usually threw out my dinner after a couple bites. (When my hiking partner wasn't looking, of course.) There were a few days I ate less than 800 calories for the whole day (even after hiking 12 miles.) To keep yourself from losing energy or becoming malnourished, you should keep eating small amounts. Listen to your body, and don't stuff yourself when nautious, but I could eat little bites of things all day. Put protein mix in water, and add olive oil to your meals. And most importantly, don't panic. Although I was eating half as much as normal, I actually did fine on the hike. Just recognize when your truly sick or need help.
Potluck dinner with other hikers!

Frequency and Calorie dispersement: Go with your appitite, but I had a specific way I ate my meals. We all forced ourselves to eat something decent in the morning, so we weren't hiking on zero energy. But I feel sluggish and bogged down if I eat too much before hiking up a hill, so I ate a decently light breakfast. Throughout the hike, we took breaks and snacked every hour or two. We would munch on a few handfulls of dried fruit and trail mix, the quick sugar in the fruit helped to give me immediate energy, and the nuts kept me full longer. I'd also eat the occational protein bar for the same reason, plus the variety. Then I'd eat over half of my calories after we set up camp, since I didn't have to worry about being bogged down or tired. I would sometimes eat an entire rehydrated meal, plus a side of soup, rehydrated potatoes, or rehydrated dip and crackers. Sometimes we'd even eat twice after setting up camp.

Normal: Oatmeal with freeze-dried fruits added, dehydrated eggs with a tortilla, dehydrated breakfast meals, protien powder and water, almond butter w/honey and tortillas, quick-cooking pancake mix.
Gluten Free: Chia seed coconut mix, dehydrated egg/veggie mix, NuGo Go free chocolate energy bar, MacroBar, brown-rice farina, rehydrated blueberries and brown rice.

Lunch-Cooking vs. Snacks:
It's important to be realistic...the only meal I usually heated and cooked was dinner. (And sometimes breakfast.) For the entire hiking part of the day, you probably won't stop and bust out your stove set. So a large portion of your calories should be in the form of ready-to-eat, dense snacks.
Normal: Kraft cheese and crackers, mini pack of fig nutens, snickers bars, peanut butter and tortillas, fruit roll ups,
Also, those little snack-packs you ate in lunch when you were little are great. (They don't need to be refridgerated, and they're decently high calorie.) Starchy snacks won't be enough, you really need the caloric density of a walnut, not a cracker.  And be realistic...more than a third of your daily calories will come from these trail-ready snacks! Bring enough.
Gluten free/Vegan: Brazil nuts, dried pineapple, dried apples, trail mix, dried ginger, chili mango, TJ's Fiberful fruit leather, dried seaweed, and protein bars.

Normal: One of many dehydrated meal choices, regular mac&cheese, ramen soup, re-hydrated potato flakes, pasta with dehydrated Alfredo sauce, dried pasta sauce packets. 

Gluten Free and Veg Friendly: One of the many Outdoor Herbivore Meals (Freckle burrito, chickpea pasta, vegan mac&cheese, pesto pasta, etc.) A Mary Janes meal: (ChiliMac, pesto pasta, etc.), rehydrated chili soup, bean dip and crackers.

There are many dehydrated desserts, (cheesecake, freeze dried ice cream, fruit crumble, etc), but you may get pretty sick of your dried food. When you pick up your resupply package, a good idea is to put a treat for yourself. It can be something that would be too heavy to carry (like a pudding), but you'll be eating it when you arrive so it doesn't really matter. I put chocolate macaroons, a gluten free brownie, and other goodies in my resupply. Variety will keep you from sponaeously throwing your meal off a cliff due to extreme food boredom.

Please see the "Packing List" post for fuel usage.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Training for the John Muir Trail

Really these suggestions could be applied to training for any long-distance backpacking trip, thru-hiking, (or even short distance.) There are different schools of thought for physical challenges such as the JMT. One is: "I'm fine, I like to hike, I will just adjust and train on the trail." The other is: "Holy crap this is going to be hard, I have to train with a weighted pack, work on my injuries, and make sure I don't give-up and go home mid-hike."
Both cases have stories of success...but I went with the second school of thought. I had a knee injury I had never really addressed, and I liked going on afternoon hikes, but not for 100+ miles with a 40lb pack. So I decided to train extra hard, and make sure I had everything I needed to keep my knees and shoulder safe. Looking back, I can see what played the biggest part in training for endurance, altitude, and joint-safety.

Dealing with Past and Recent Injuries:
Thinking that pesky knee strain won't bother you on the trail may be denial. If it bothers you on a short hike or run, it will bother you on a 2,500 ft. altitude gain with a 50lb pack. Take many practice hikes before you go, and bring a weighted pack. I started with a small one, and kept adding weight and miles. Then you start to see what injuries flair up. That old shoulder strain from baseball may become a very present annoyance. So be honest with yourself about you limitations, and have them evaluated before you go.
Where to find advice on your injuries: 
Physical Therapy: If you have health insurance, check with your doctor and get a prescription for physical therapy. Be very honest about the hike, and ask them advice. They can tell you what braces you should wear, how to make makeshift braces out of ace bandages, and so on. They can also give you exercises to do before you go, to strengthen any weak areas. I found out I have a specific muscle weakness in my quad that was affecting my knee, so I devoutly did the weights and movements necessary to strengthen it before my trip.   
Yoga Therapy: So let's face it, in this country of private and expensive health care, we don't all have insurance. Luckily, there are alternatives to full-priced physical therapy. Some PTs have private practices, sometimes out of their homes, so they charge decent rates. Another option can be "Yoga Therapy." There is a system of certified yoga therapists, that help heal injuries with a gentle yoga practice. If you have a serious injury, just remember that they are not doctors, and you should seek medical help. But a pesky muscle problem can be truly helped by this specialized practice. To find a therapist in your area, you can look on the official website. If you live in the LA area, I specifically suggest a yoga therapist, Sherry Brourman, who is also a certified physical therapist. She's a body-mechanic genius, and I give her full credit for making my knee trail-ready. (Much more so than the traditional doctors and PTs that I saw.) More about her techniques and classes below...
If you don't live in SoCal, there's another teacher named Jill Miller that has DVD's and video blogs specifying different muscles and joints. She has great articles and videos about hurt knees, tight hamstrings, and core strength. To check out her articles, videos, and order her DVD's just visit
Gait Analysis: 
Available on Amazon
Often an imbalance in the body starts with the way we walk. The way our feet press into the ground and direction our toes point can affect the knees, which affect the hips, which affect the low back, and so on. So an excellent step is getting your walking gait analyzed. This is another thing you can see your physical therapist about. This happens to also be Sherry Brourman's specialty. (The yoga therapist mentioned above.) If you live in SoCal, you can go to her "Walking Yoga" workshops held at exhale in Venice. If you live far away, she has a book called "Walk Yourself Well," which has a TON of awesome information. She also holds semi-private yoga classes in Santa Monica, (4-5 students with one teacher and 1-2 assistants.) She will discuss injuries, and hold a yoga class while correcting any imbalance she observes. You can see her class times and locations at  
During the hike, I would start to have knee pain (or simply be tired and sore), and I would think about the gait corrections Sherry made. I was able to adjust my step and posture, helping my shoulders (by knowing how to engage my core to hold my bag, instead of dumping into my shoulders), and my knee pain would drop significantly. So if you can, find someone to analyze your walk to optimize your hiking performance.

Endurance Training/Strength/Flexibility: 
As mentioned above, the best training for a hike is hiking. If you have trails available to you, hike them as often as humanly possible. Any hike you have time for is good, but getting some decent mileage is optimal. And bring a weighted pack, so your shoulders don't have a rebellion when you're suddenly stuck carrying it for 15 miles straight.
If you don't have ample trails near you, (or if you live somewhere with weather), there are alternative ways to train. Just don't forget the holy trinity of training: Strength, aerobic/endurance, and flexibility.
Aerobic/Endurance Training:
Fitness Classes: I took a bunch of circuit training "boot camp" style classes before the trip. We would get our heart rate up by stair climbing, sprinting, and more, then alternate with strength training. In relation to the JMT, the strength training proved important for: steep climbs, lifting the backpack, and scrambling up rocks. And if your muscles and joints are strong, there is less chance of injury. My favorite classes were the "Missions" with Jenna Phillips, who I wrote about in my blog about Santa Monica. I never left those classes under-worked or disappointed.
Photo by Cimm
Dance Classes: This may seem like an odd suggestion, but the different steps in my dance classes really prepared my legs for the different terrain of hiking. In my Samba class, the steps would take us in all directions (sideways, forwards, backwards, in a circle). This really prepared my legs for all sorts of movements, instead of just the forward movement of walking. The terrain on the JMT changes constantly (steep uphill, steep downhill, grass, sand, stone, snow, crab-walking), and I was happy my legs were conditioned in many ways. Instead of partner or choreographed dance, the fast-moving pace of Samba or Zumba fits the bill nicely. As a bonus, it can be an intense aerobic workout, which is needed for long-distance hiking. If you can find these classes in your area, awesome. If you live in LA, Gisella is my favorite teacher. She teaches at Your Neighborhood Studio, (I love this place), and the Brazil Brazil Cultural Center.  
Strenth Training:
Weights: Good ol' fasioned weight training can prepare your muscles. But please, please get someone to show you the proper alignment and movement for the free-weights and machines (even if you've been lifting for years.) Whenever I walk around the gym, most of the people are lifting with bad posture and alignment, which can actually hurt instead of help you. (Same with the treadmill, which is why a gait analysis is great.)
Photo by Edson Hong
Pilates: Reformer pilates has to be my favorite strength workout. (Pilates on the reformer is on a machine, opposed to on a mat.) It works both sides of your body equally to keep from muscle   imbalances, and equalizes the different muscle groups. The classes are ussually smaller, so the teacher can give more individualized attention to assure you are using the proper muscle for the exercise (like your core instead of your back.) Having a strong core helps in almost all movements, even hiking. In the LA-area, I like Pilates Plus, which has many locations. (These classes can be pricey, but look for deals and on-line coupons!)
Of course, the easiest way to gain flexibility is through yoga classes. But not all classes are created equal...some teachers have turned it into a strength workout, and there's not that much stretching involved. Try going to a yin yoga class for deep stretches, or a Forrest yoga class for structural muscle opening. Vinyasa flow yoga is NOT the best for stretching, it's usually too fast paced.
Also, your PT can give you some specific stretches to do if you have the dicipline to do it on your own. Pilates also has a flexibility aspect.
Ankle Strength: Another yoga benefit comes from balancing poses. Standing on one foot in the different yoga postures can be great for strengthening and balancing ankle muscles, a key part of safe hiking. I often have problems with "rolling my ankles," which has led to weeks on crutches. Building ankle strength can help with this issue, so don't skimp on Warrior Three poses. 

Altitude Training:
The only real way to train for altitude is to be at altitude. This can be difficult for those of us that live at sea level. If you live within a few hours of a trail with altitude, go as often as you can to hike there. If that isn't an option, than try going to Yosemite (or wherever your hike starts) and spending a few days there before you begin hiking. Sleeping, walking, and breathing at altitude may prep your body for the hike. You may think this is trivial, but altitude sickness has some really unpleasant side affects. 1.) It is harder to breath. Your body is taking in less oxygen, so a hike that wouldn't be a problem at sea level may leave you heaving. 2.) Altitude sickness can leave you feeling nauseous and dizzy, and you may have trouble taking in enough calories.
I was not able to train high up, so I suffered from altitude sickness almost the entire time. I did some different things to deal with it, which I'll outline in my next blog post about backpacking food.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Packing List for the John Muir Trail

I have had quite the internet silence lately, with no blog posts, facebook, or emails. It's because I was on a nice long walk. I went with a friend to hike the John Muir Trail (I did half, he did the whole thing.) This is a packing list for my recommended items/brands, and where to get them. The list can be applied to the JMT specifically (for things like weather and bugs,) but really it can be applied to any through hiking, long-distance backpacking trip, or even shorter backpacking trails.
I approached my friend who had hiked the Appalachian trail, and when I asked him for advice, he simply said: "WEIGHT, WEIGHT, and WEIGHT." I didn't think weight would be all that important, but once you strap that backpack on and go up two hours of switchbacks, you'll be begging for a lighter pack. Don't forget important items, but be very conscious what your bringing.

Do a practice hike with your gear!
I went on a 3-day camping trip with the gear I wanted to bring. I also took a 14 mile hike with a weighted pack, to see how everything would work. I learned some very valuable things (that my pants were really uncomfortable, that my hat didn't cover my temples so I needed extra sunscreen, and that sock liners were key to avoid blisters and sore toes.) I would have gone with some unnecessary items, some uncomfortable gear, and missed some things. I felt much more confidant taking a practice trip and knowing my gear.

Where to buy/rent gear:
Buying: If you want to buy new, and see it first-hand, the two main outdoor stores are REI and A16 (A16 is just in SoCal). I like A16 more. There's usually more people on staff, and they're REALLY knowledgeable. If you have a local outdoor store, it's great to support them as well.
Auctions/Army Surplus Stores: Both these resources often have the most cost-effective options, although they're not always light-weight, so be careful.
Craigslist/Online: There's some great stuff, like trekking poles, stoves and tents on Craigslist. It can be a bit time-consuming, but could save you money. There's also a ton of discount outdoor websites:,,,, 
Renting: If you don't want to dish out the cash for new gear, A16 rents A LOT of items. (Backpacks, sleeping bags, trekking poles, stoves, etc.) If you go to school, many colleges rent out gear as well, and your local gear shop might do the same. Yosemite park actually rents bear canisters for cheap ($5 a week). But you do have to put a deposit down, and make sure to mail/give it back to them.

The List:
Here is my list, complete with a picture of the items. For my clothes, I took a picture of everything "non-compressed" (out of their stuff sacks.) The second picture is the same items, but compressed, (except for the outfit I actually wore.) You can see what a difference in space the compressible items make. Feel free to leave a comment if you think I've left something out, or you have a favorite brand/item you want to rave about.
  • Hiking Shoes/Boots: This is not something you want to skimp on. If you have cheap, crappy hiking boots, you will be in pain, have blisters, and maybe slip on wet rocks. I have Vasque brand hiking boots, which can be on the pricey side. But, I got them at an awesome sale at REI, and paid $40 instead of $120. So it is possible to find deals, just don't skimp on quality. If you already have a pair, just make sure they still have good treading on the bottom, and haven't worn through by the heal.
  • Convertible pants to shorts/capris: You will get cold sometimes, and warm sometimes, and may have to cross rivers other times. But you should only bring 1-2 pairs of pants/shorts, so make it count by making them convertible. And they must be COMFORTABLE. Nothing makes a hike worse than having pains in uncomfortable places, or too long, too tight, etc.
  • Shorts: Just brought a small, lightweight pair to wear while my main pair were drying (from rain or washing.)
  • Polyester shirt: YOU DO NOT WANT COTTON. You will probably wear this every day for weeks, and it needs to dry quickly after you've washed it in a river. So synthetic fiber, or any quick-dry material is a must. I got a silver-threaded shirt from Lululemon, it was supposed to make me stink less. If want to save on money, Ross or TJ Maxx often have polyester shirts as well. Bamboo is also a good choice.
  • SPV shirt: It's smart to have one back-up shirt, so that you have something to wear when you're washing the other. (Or if it gets torn or sprayed with mud). I got a UV-protected long sleeve for chillier weather. And when you spend 12 hours a day in the sun on a hike, you have to remember sun exposure.
  • Thermal pants/shirt (Patagonia Midweight Capalene): Do your research on weather, the highs and lows. If you're doing the JMT, the lows will sometimes be below freezing. I did not regret bringing my long underwear to wear to bed. My synthetic Patagonia Capalene are great. Just get the mid-weight, the thinner ones won't do as much.
  • 2 pairs ExOfficio underwear:  Yes, I really brought only 2 pairs of underwear for two weeks. But ExOfficio are supposed to be quick-drying, anti-microbial, and so on. They look a little like granny panties, but they do the trick. You can wash them in the stream, and wear the other pair. Just check out my bit on "feminine hiking health" if you want to learn some extra tricks for long-term underwear use.
  • 3 pairs thick wool hiking socks: Socks will be one of your most important purchases. They must be comfortable, quick-drying (NO COTTON!!), thick for cushioning and blister prevention. I went with the heavyweight REI brand. Most of the time go for Merino wool. It won't smell as bad, and it's not itchy. Ask your A16 or REI person, they can help you make a choice, and don't skimp on cost for this one. Pain makes a trip less fun.
  • 3 pairs Sock Liners: People have different opinions about sock liners, but they worked great for me. They're a thin under-layer you wear under socks to prevent friction (i.e. blisters). They can also be quick-drying, and can be easier to clean than your actual socks, so they lengthen the time you have clean outer socks. I tried a few brands, all worked. Here's a great article on picking socks/liners from REI.
  • Winter Jacket: Do your homework on weather, but I needed a full-on Patagonia jacket. Me and my hiking partner were ecstatic that we decided against the fleece and went full on, since it gets cold. Just make sure your jacket keeps you comfy in below-freezing temperatures.
  • Rain shell jacket/pants (Sierra Designs): This could easily be heavy and bulky, or small and light. You want a compressible pair that fits into a little stuff sack (or its own pocket), and weighs very little. These can be really pricey, but Sierra Designs makes some decently affordable ones. You can see mine in the picture, they start out full jacket/pants, and compress down to small bags that weighed very little. Surprisingly, they made a great stuffer for my pillow case. 
  • Wide-brim Hat: This served two from the sun (extremely necessary) and a holder for the mosquito headnet, to keep it away from my face. Whatever is comfortable and provides good protection should work, Colombia makes some affordable ones that are nicely ventilated.
  • Sandals: I needed these for river crossings, and to wear at the end of the day when I wanted to get out of my shoes! I just brought some light flip-flops, but my partner's foam Crocs proved a little better (since I lost mine in a river halfway through.) He found some off-brand for $5 at a drug store, so no splurge needed. Just remember you'll be carrying them on your back (usually strapped to the outside with a carabiner), so light is important.
  • Mosquito Head-Net: I didn't believe everyone that California could have such bad mosquitoes. But day two I crying for mercy, apologizing for being a non-believer. The pristine meadows of the trail prove a haven for mosquito breading, and I used my head-net almost every night. Sea to Summit makes a great light-weight one, but any one small enough should do.
  • Light gloves: Nothing special, just brought a light pair of fleece gloves for cold nights.
  • Sunscreen: You HAVE to wear it. Make sure yours works, I like the aloe-based ones.
  • Mosquito repellent: I hate the stuff, and swore I wouldn't use it, but ended up slathering it on every hour. Lemon-eucalyptus won't cut it, get the serious stuff.
  • Toilet paper: Guys brought just a regular role. Being a woman, and needing it more often, I used about 2.5 roles a week. For weight/space, I bought Coghlan's role-less biodegradable paper. For two weeks I brought 6 rolls, and had one left over.
  • Chapstick (non-petroleum): Necessary for sun and dry weather. Petroleum-based chapstick will actually dry out your lips, so try for the Burt's Bees, or an Aloe-based. 
  • Toothbrush/paste (mini): I had more tiny tubes at each re-supply.
  • Spiral notepad / pencil: Proved useful for writing email addresses of hikers, suggestions for the trail, and journaling. 
  • Camp soap: I brought the Sea to Summit concentrated camp soap, which can be used for laundry, body, hair, etc. 
  • Waterless Hand Sanitizer: The next time I hike, I'm going to bring less soap, and more hand-sanitizer. Your hands will get filthy, but you need to be near water to use soap. Plus, we're not supposed to be using any soap within 200 feet of a water source. (To keep water pristine.) This makes hand-washing complicated, so water-less sanitizer is an easier choice.
The Rest:
  • Backpack: Use a good backpack! We met up with some guys using army surplus bags, and two of their bags broke mid-hike! They ended up duck-taping parts of the bag together, but there were some painful miles ahead. Go into A16 or REI and get fitted for one, because comfort and body-fit are very important. They also make different frames for women, I have a woman's Gregory pack. You want a 60 gallon at the least, but not too big, 65 gallon seems to be the perfect size. The nicer packs will cost, but they usually come with a lifetime guarantee. (So you can ship them back for repairs instead of using duct tape.) You can also rent one.
  • Trekking poles: Absolutely NECESSARY for a long through-hike. You use them for balance jumping rocks, to keep for being swept away in river crossings, and to keep from sliding down a steep snow-crossing. They also take some work off your knees on the downhill, and give your shoulders a break on the uphill. And bring a pair, not a single.
  • Tent: Most people use a one-person backpacking tent. The dark blue pack in my picture is my Kelty. It's only a couple of pounds and doesn't take up much space. Some folks I met had a Eureka, which was almost as light and could fit two people. Most of these will not be free-standing, as poles weight a lot. Some hard-core folks made a tent out of their trekking poles and a rain fly, which is super light-weight, but doesn't provide much protection from bugs and rain.
  • Sleeping bag (20ยบ or better): I had many restless nights because of the cold, so you're going to want a warm bag. Down is lightweight, compresses nicely, and is usually warmer than synthetic. The danger with down is that you cannot get it wet. This is something to consider. I went with a synthetic bag, although I wasn't quite as warm, condensation and rain didn't prove a problem. (Plus i have moral issues with down.) It needs to come with a compression sack, to reduce the amount of room it takes up in your pack.
  • Sleeping Pad: Many people had the Z-Lite foam Thermarest; it's one of their lightest. That's not comfortable enough for me (the foam isn't thick enough, sleeping in a rocky area wouldn't be fun.) I liked the self-inflating padded Theramrest; I use the Women's Trail Lite. This is also something you should touch and test, so go into REI or A16 and try them out. Some compress smaller than others, and they all have different amounts of padding.
  • Backpacking Stove: It's really popular to make homemade alcohol stoves out of soda cans, and many people do this. It's the most cost-effective, lightweight option. (And there's many online videos to show you how.) I don't trust my engineering skills, so I bought a tiny Optimus Crux Lite stove. It ran me about $30 (not counting fuel) and it worked great. I also bought the whole unit (pot and pan), since the fuel, stove, and spork all fit inside as a single unit to save space. 
  • Mini backpacking pot/pan: When I say mini, I mean mini. I was able to boil water in the pot for a dehydrated meal, and the little pan fit as a cover to boil faster. Loved the fit-together unit. A cozy isn't a bad idea, either.
  • Fuel: What you use depends on your stove, I used the small canisters my stove screwed into. I brought 3 for two weeks, using it once to twice a day, but came home with one untouched. There's also stoves that use gasoline, alcohol, and just about anything else you can think of.
  • Bear canister (Bear Vault BV500): Bear canisters are REQUIRED on the JMT. They add weight and take up space, but they are a necessary evil. There are two approved canisters, the Garcia and the Bear Vault. I like the latter, since the Bear Vault is a little lighter, and the larger one can fit more food. I also like its transparency, so you could get to the pesky protein bar at the bottom without dumping the whole thing. They are very easy to rent, which should save you money. Yosemite park rents them for $5 a week, or you can find them at your local outdoor store. (A16 has them for sure in SoCal.)
  • Water filter (Pump or Steripen): Out of all the things I thought would bother me, the two winners were mosquitoes and water pumping. You get your water from the mountain lakes and streams, but it's best to filter it somehow, (intestinal upset is no fun on the trail.) Most people had water pumps, but they are not built alike. Our MSR filtered VERY slowly, and it often took 20-30 minutes for a water fill-up. I loved the Katadyn Vario Filter, it was super fast and easy to use. The Steripen is the easiest, but some people get nervous relying on a battery powered device. My suggestion...if you're going with two people, bring one Steripen, and one pump-filter as a backup. Three people? One pump, one Steripen, and one bottle of Iodine as a double-backup.
  • Camelback/Playapus Bladder: I hate these things, (they don't sit up, so I always drop it in the dirt, and the mouth piece gets gross, and they're hard to clean...)  but having some kind of water bladder is pretty important. A lot of people like the Playtapus brand, they have one that can stand up on it's end, and one that has a built-in filter. You need to drink A LOT of water a day, so a single water bottle isn't going to do it. (Plus I met people with very heavy metal water containers, a water bladder will be a lot lighter, and will fit in the pack better.)
  • Nalgene bottle: Not an essential item, but proved useful for mixing protein drinks and electrolyte packets. (Wouldn't want that clogging up your Camelback.)
  • Backpacking Towel: This may seem trivial, but a regular towel takes up A LOT of space (and it's heavy.) Also, cotton towels take forever to dry. A nice synthetic backpacking towel will be tiny, light, and quick-drying. I like the texture and size of Sea to Summit large pocket towel.
  • Pillow Case (Thermarest Trekker): The idea of sleeping without a pillow took a little getting used to. But I had an idea about stuffing my clothes into a small pillow case, and luckily Therarest had the same idea. You could use any small, soft bag (my trekking partner brought a small cotton drawstring bag his sheets came in.) I liked the small size, weight, and feel of the Thermarest as well. Your comfy jacket should make a good stuffer, or any clothes you have with you. I was surprised at how well I slept using rain gear and shorts as my pillow. 
  • Headlamp (4 extra batteries): Essential for hands-free light, (i.e. if you have to put up your tent in the dark.) Any decent one will do, as long as it's not too heavy or large.
  • Squishy bowl: Your small pot can be doubled as a bowl to eat out of, but I often made two dishes for dinner, so having this extra bowl was good. The Squishy Bowls squash down for easy packing in the bear canister, and can be flipped inside-out to clean.
  • Spork: Mine has a knife, spoon and fork. It's just a cheap plastic-like one, but it worked fine, nothing fancy needed. 
  • Pocket Knife: Besides cooking, it's always important to take a small knife.
  • Sponge/scouring pad: You can buy a tiny camping sponge, I just cut a regular one in half.
  • Plastic bag (for trash): If your food comes in ziplocks (like mine from, you can just use those for trash as you eat the food. If not, it's good to bring an extra plastic bag.
  • Nylon cord: A thin, small nylon cord is useful for hanging clothes, tying things together, and whatever else you can think of.
  • Carabiner: Good for hanging things (like sandals) off your pack, and can always be handy.
  • First-Aid Kit: You can always make your own first-aid kit, but I found it easier to buy a light, waterproof one. I didn't think I would touch it, but I found some use for it almost every night. (Anti-itch, moleskin for blisters, aspirin, etc.) I just added some extra Ibuprofen and cranberry. Someone in the group should also bring a snake-bite kit.
  • Extra Ibuprofen: I brought a tiny plastic travel tube and filled it with extra Ibuprofen and supplements. Not a lot, but enough to help my inflamed knee on difficult days.
  • Thermarest patch kit: It's probably not essential that everyone in your party have their own patch kit, but at least one person should have one. (I can attest to this, one person we met used his three times!)
  • Camera: Some folks brought their digital, I brought my cheap GoPro waterproof camera with an extra roll of film. Was useful for days in the rain, and pictures while swimming.
  • Compass/Whistle: A little compass/whistle/thermometer combo is never a bad idea. Good for getting, lost, emergencies, etc.
  • Maps/JMT Atlas: Some foks roll without a map, but our JMT Atlas proved really useful. We were able to find our way in snowy areas by looking at elevation, river crossings, and direction. It saved us quite a it lets you know where to expect "campgrounds," water fill-up spots, and switchbacks.
  • Extra supplements: As a female hiker, I felt a bit safer bringing a few extra supplements. (Not entire bottles, just a small travel package.) I brought cranberry extract, and some probiotics. Because of the not-so-clean, wet environment, and the weird food, it's the perfect formula for UTI's and yeast problems. A UTI on the trail would NOT be a fun experience, so don't copy the guy's tendency to wear unwashed underwear for a week straight. Having some cranberry extract might save you from some (literal) pain, and probiotics for yeast and stomach health isn't a bad idea, either. 

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    A Day in Santa Monica-Promenade

    The SM promenade is a difficult place to find quality deals, since it can be an intense tourist trap. The aggressive sign-holders, the pushy crowds, and the out-of-town drivers can try my patience. But I sometimes can't avoid going there, and that being said, there's a few things worth checking out.
    Photo by Elan Ruskin
    Happy Hour: 
    "Cheap" and "The Promenade" aren't usually in the same sentence, unless it's followed by "McDonald's." The restaurants can be on the pricey side. Fortunately, they often have some great happy hour specials.
    Locanda del Lago:
    Locanda del Lago is an Italian restaurant right on 3rd St. It's quite nice inside, and the food is tasty. It tastes even better during happy hour, when the food and wine has special prices. They have a vegetarian menu, (and celebrate meatless Monday), complete with vegan options. Gluten-free can be challenging, but they have great soups and salads, and a list of options. Since they serve a basket of bread with your order, my last dinner there for two (splitting the truffle pizza and a bowl of soup), was around $20. Not bad for Santa Monica Italian.
    231 Arizona Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90401
    Happy Hour: 
    Tuesday: All day at bar stools
    Mon-Sun: 4pm to 7pm (weekend only in the bar.)
    Phone: 310 451-3525

    Photo by Caroline on Crack
    Pourtal is a relatively new wine-tasting bar, with some really good eats for wine-pairing. You can buy a pre-paid card, then have fun pushing the buttons that dispense great wine from all over the world. One of my favorite features: A selection of woman-owned wineries. You can also order a plate of assorted cheeses form Andrew's Cheese Shop (one of my favorites.) The flat-bread and desserts are also wonderful. This could get expensive fast (especially a few glasses in), but they have a great happy hour: $6 appetisers, $6 glasses, and 15% of tasting sales are donated to a non-profit (which changes bi-weekly). So now you can drink wine and donate to charity at the same time. Not a bad deal.
    Happy Hour: 
    Photo by Caroline on Crack
    Monday:  All Night (4pm to closing)
    Tuesday through Friday: 4pm to 7pm
    104 Santa Monica Boulevard, SM, 90401
    Phone: (310) 451-3525

    Other Food Options:
    This is a greasy-spoon diner without the grease. Although it has a lot of "traditional" American diner options (waffles, burgers, fries, etc), they also serve quinoa, tofu scramble, and homemade salad dressings. The tables are donned with organic agave sweetner, the eggs are free-range, and there are tons of veg/vegan/gluten-free options. The food is tasty and the decor is interesting, plus they are open late...until 2am Sun-Wed, and 3am Thurs-Sat. So after the bar, you can satisfy your late-night cravings for quinoa and vegan cupcakes.
    802 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401-2711
    Phone: (310) 393-9793
    Hours:  Sun-Wed: 7am-2am
                 Thurs-Sat: 7am-3am

    Bay Cities Italian Deli:
    Photo by Muy Yum
    Located right next door to Swingers is this great deli. It's existence is no secret, so don't get too scared by the large cluster of people always surrounding this place. It's a full grocery store, complete with Italian imports of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Their real draw is the sandwich bar, made-to-order on their homemade bread. If you really don't like crowds, a good solution is calling ahead of time and placing a phone order. Your sandwich should be ready in back when you arrive, and you can bee-line right to the check-out stand. Just don't forget a piece of imported European chocolate.

    Phone: (310) 395-8279
    Hours: Tues-Sat: 9am-7pm
                Sunday: 9am-6pm
                CLOSED MONDAYS

    Complete a Mission! 
    Photo by TargoPhoto
    Santa Monica can be synonymous with working out, but with good reason. The beach views and clear skies beat the gym any day. You can go for a run on the grassy paths or walk up the leg-burning Santa Monica Stairs, and working out yourself can be great if you have disipline and fitness knowledge. I would rather have a fitness guru take me to the next level, especially since it's easy to get stuck in the same ol' routine. Jenna Phillips leads her "missions" on the grass overlooking the ocean, or on the SM stairs and Runyon Canyon in the vast gym of the outdoors. The workout is always changing, always fun and always butt-kicking. Her positive vibe motivates me like a perky loving drill sergeant. My body has changed, and I'm always challenged. Check out her website for locations, schedule, and pricing.
    See a show!
    There are many well-known concert venues and theaters, but steep entry fees, 2-drink minimums, and Hollywood parking can add up fast. Luckily, there are many smaller venues that are often just as good, and sometimes free! There's a few near the promenade. For something different, check out the a magic show at Magicopolis. For some awesome comedy, try Westside Comedy Theater. They have improv classes for the novice, and performances for the viewer. Definitely check out certain Monday nights, when they have the improv teachers (Team X and The Faculty) do a FREE show. Laughing for free = awesome.
    Jenna Phillips TargoPhoto
    1323-A 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401 (In the alley between 3rd and 4th).
    Phone:  310.451.0850

    Try Yoga:
    I have heard that Santa Monica has the largest concentration of yoga studios in the world (including India). And the largest concentration in Santa Monica has to be the promenade. The best part is, some are by donation! With the growing cost and popularity of yoga, donation-based yoga is a true gift. Plus, if you're new to yoga, many classes can be tried without the large initial investment. There are two locations of Brian Kest's Power Yoga, which is the "original" donation studio in SM. Bhakti Yoga Shala is also donation-based. For specific needs, there's Yo Mama studio for moms, Gentle Senior Yoga studio, and hot yoga at Hot 8. If you want to try other spots, there's also Home Simply Yoga, Yogis Anonymous, and YogaCo.

    Go out and dance:
    Photo by Mick Orlosky
    If you're interested in the night life, there's a couple great dance spots nearby. Harvelle's is a dark sultry speakeasy that's been around since the 1931. It's the oldest live music venue on the Westside, and they continue to have great jazz and blues from around the world. Make sure to catch The Toledo Show every Sunday evening, a sexy jazz show complete with Toledo's burlesque dancers. Check their schedule to see other upcoming performances.
    1432 4th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401
    Phone: (310) 395-1676
    Another favorite of mine is Zanzibar on 4th St. This place has a great vibe, and most people are there truly to dance (not just to troll the floor looking for girls). They have different DJ's/performers almost every night, and there always mixing in some funky surprise. I've heard a South African band complete with a Xylophone, a whole troupe of bongo drummers, and countless dance-tastic DJ's. AfroFunk Thursdays is my dancing staple, and their other changing nights rarely disappoint. 
    1301 5th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401
    Phone: (310) 451-2221

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    A Day at the Huntington Library

    The Huntington is a place that no Angelino (or visitor) should miss. The library is only one part of its 207 acres of art, koi ponds, and botanical gardens. The amount of things to see in this place can literally keep a person entertained for days. And there are ways to make your visit cheaper, if you know the right days to go.

    The Botanical Gardens
    Photo by Sean Byron
    Of the 207 Huntington acres, 120 acres are botanical gardens. It would literally take someone several days, if not weeks, to view them all. It's hard to even list all the 12 gardens (which doesn't even include everything garden-related, like their greenhouse or botanical center.) They have an Australian, tropical, rose, desert, herb, and Shakespeare garden, just to name a few. It's easy to spend an entire day at even one of these gardens, especially if you get a docent to explain the details you might miss. (You can get these docent guided garden tours for free Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday between noon and 2pm, or Sat/Sun between 10:30-2:30. For more information on all their tour options, click here.)  

    The gardens are truly amazing, with no details spared. In the Chinese garden, they have a full koi pond, rock structures, and traditional Chinese buildings. They have lots of hands-on features in their children's garden, so kids can indulge in their urge to touch everything in sight. Since there's so many things to see, locals can return again and again and still experience something new.

    The Art:
    Photo by Curry Puffy
    The Huntington houses an impressive array of famous artwork, concentrating on 18th and 19th century British and French art, and an American exhibition. There are three permanent art collections, plus a fourth that changes. They have famous works from Mary Cassatt, Rembrandt, and one of the largest collections of William Blake around. Sometimes the art and gardens are integrated, as there are many Europeans statues situated among the flowers and trees. Also, the amazing buildings that the galleries reside in are an art show in themselves. If you've already seen all the permanent collections, check their website for upcoming new shows.      

    The Library:
    Photo by Kevin T. Quinn
    If you decide to actually visit the library portion of the Huntington, dismiss whatever comes to your mind when you think "library." There is over 6 million items of extremely rare books, manuscripts, and photos. They actually have the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Renaissance literature, medieval manuscripts, and a huge collection of early edition Shakespeare. Whether you're a scholar who wants to take advantage of the unparallelled research opportunities, or an English major who's going to geek out over Chaucer, the library at the Huntington is something not to be missed.

    Admission to the Huntington varies depending on the day, your age, or student status. Here's a basic break-down:

    Adults: $15     Seniors: $12     Students: $10     Age 5-11: $6     Under 5: free
    Adults: $20     Seniors: $15     Students: $10     Age 5-11: $6     Under 5: free
    Free Day! 
    On the first Thursday of every month, admission is free! But you do need advance tickets, which you can get here. The hours on Free Day are 10:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. This is a great opportunity if you don't have the cash for a regular entrance, just be aware that it is more crowded on free day.

    (Summer) Hours:
    Monday-Sunday (excluding Tuesday): 10:30am-4:30pm
    Tuesdays: Closed

    Free! The Huntington has it's own large lots, which are free to park in. Bonus.

    There is no food or picnicking allowed on the grounds. There is a grassy knoll near the parking lot for the purpose, or they sell food at their Tea Room and the Cafe.
    Also, it's right nearby the Arcadia/Alhambra area, which has some great eats. Click here for suggestions. It is also right near Pasadena.

    Other Info:
    The Huntington has a great website, so check it out for any kind of info...bringing groups, art exhibits, directions, etc. Just don't miss this place, it's such a great day for visiting relatives, friends, or locals.
    Address: 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA  91108
    Phone: 626.405.2100

    Saturday, May 28, 2011

    A Night at the Hollywood Bowl

    Just as LA is warming up to the comfort level of picky Angelino's, the Hollywood Bowl is getting ready to have its opening night concert. The bowl is one of LA's best summer concert spots, with a variety of acts and a variety of experiences. There's a few specific reasons why I love going to the Bowl on any night, even if there's isn't a specific concert I want to see. Here's some of my favorite attributes of the Bowl:

    You can bring a picnic!
    The Hollywood Bowl actually let you bring your own food in! There are picnic tables and grassy knolls where you can enjoy your food and wine before the show, or you can bring it with you to your seats to enjoy while you listen to music. Some people really go all out, (tablecloths, full meals fit for Thanksgiving), but I like to get some cheese and crackers from TJ's and have it with a nice red wine. Yes, you can even bring wine. (That being said, that is only for the Hollywood Bowl produced shows, such as the classical nights and sing-alongs. The "leased shows," i.e. most of the big popular bands, do not allow alcohol. For their policies check this part of their website.)
    Not only can you bring food, you can even bring candles! Can you think of a better date night? Under the stars...surrounded by mountains...listening to a live orchestra...eating strawberries and drinking wine by candlelight. *sigh*

    Tickets start as low as $1.75
    Ok, so you're not going to see some well-known pop band for under $2 a ticket. But you can see the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, live jazz, or go to a musical sing-along. The Orchestra is amazing, and I almost feel like I'm cheating for seeing them this cheaply. The ticket usually has a small processing fee, but even when you just show up at the Bowl to buy them their still around $7 a person. Even their larger shows are really reasonably priced, especially if you're willing to sit in the back bench area. This season they have Eddie Izzard live, and the bench seats are only $32! So the gist: live shows thrown by the Bowl = awesome prices.

    The view....the sunset!
    This place is called the Bowl for a sits in a bowl, surrounded on all sides by the rolling mountains of the Hollywood Hills. Usually the shows start while it's still light, and you get to watch the sunset over the hills as the bands play on. Just don't forget that LA gets chilly at night, so bring a warm blanket or jacket. And a cushion to sit on isn't a bad idea either.

    Where to get tickets and info:
     What to bring: 
    • Warm clothes
    • A blanket
    • A cushion to sit on 
    • A small cooler, bag, or picnic basket (be sure to check their cooler size limitations here.)
    • Good picnic food. (A Trader Joe's run isn't a bad idea.)
    • Wine and wine glasses. (Be sure it's a bowl-sponsored event, and not a "leased" event.) 
    • Candles (if you want some mood lighting) 
    • Napkins or plates to eat on. 
    Have fun and long live summer!